Thursday, December 23, 2010

There are many small PCs, but the Dell GX620 SFF wins

The first big challenge in building a small HTPC is finding the right size box and at the right price. Sure you can go out and buy an Acer Revo or one of the Zotac micro boxes, and you would do very well with any of these I'm sure. Call me cheap, but they're still at least twice the price I want to spend. My goal was to stay as close to $100 as possible. In the end, I exceeded $100, but not by much!

Dell makes a few really small PCs. They're all called SFF cases. (S)mall (F)orm (F)actor. The three I investigated are the Dell GX620 SFF, the GX270 and the GX280. Both the GX270 and GX280 come in one really small case design. Both are smaller than the GX620 SFF. The GX270 and GX280 are really neat little PCs, but they do not have the power nor the available expansion slots I need for the NVidia HD graphics card. So they were immediately eliminated. The Dell GX620 comes in three different sizes. There is a Tower, Desktop and a SFF case. Obviously you want the SFF case. This case is quite small and fits very nicely in your media cabinet. It's only 12" wide by 13.5" deep by 3.5 high. This is the SFF...

The Desktop and the SFF look nearly identical in pics on eBay so be very careful about which one you're actually bidding on. You can recognize the SFF by the slim CD/DVD drive that extends above the two USB ports. The Desktop case is significantly bigger in reality but it looks nearly identical to the SFF in the tiny pics on eBay. The Desktop case has a full size CD/DVD drive that does not extend over the USB ports. Hopefully the seller will label the machine correctly but just in case, it helps to know how to visually tell the difference.

I bought three GX620 SFFs, 2.8 Ghz single cores, 512MB RAM with 40GB hard drives for $210 with $30 shipping. Yeah that's cheap! That's only $80 per machine! Quite a nice savings when compared to a bare bones Zotac for $300!

I ended up pulling the two 256MB RAM sticks from one machine and replaced them with two 1GB (I'll discuss this later). That was another $30. There is a faster dual core version of this machine which I would certainly recommend if you don't mind spending a bit more. I have one of these too and it does run very fast. I actually use it as a server. However, the single core GX620s with HT (Hyper Threading) have more than enough power since we off-load over 90% of the HD video processing to the NVidia HD graphics card. We'll be talking about that later too.

Coming up in the next post... Which video card?